Voices Vol 42 No 2

Special Interest Groups

Bilingual/ESL Middle School

All Together Now

By Tina Kern

It’s a difficult time for teachers now, especially teachers of ELLs.  We are in the midst of a new curriculum, writing SGOs/SLOs for our students in September (and, of course, for our evaluation), and preparing/administering assessments. We are interspersing test vocabulary and skills in lessons, writing lengthy plans for review, and trying to squeeze in a fun activity, if the schedule allows it.

Education has gone through periods of change, some good, some not-so-good, but the kids are the reason I love teaching.  We constantly search for the best lessons, the best technique, but, even when we are flooded with the “new” research espousing the new “best” one, something seems to be missing.

How do we provide an education that reaches all ELLs, meets their needs, and supports them as they travel through reading and language levels to proficiency?  How do we fill in the gaps as we simultaneously move the students forward? 

This year is even more frenetic as I attempt to bring an important piece into the puzzle that might help complete the educational profile of the students in my school.  So many times I hear teachers bemoan their struggle to contact a parent – a parent who has never attended a school function or a parent conference.  That piece of the puzzle sometimes eludes us and this is the piece that might help to complete the picture.  So I am hosting parent meetings, drawing our parents into the school, welcoming them as an integral piece of the puzzle that comprises their child’s future.

Last night was another parent meeting.  We discussed “just right” books. Do teachers ever consider the easy way we throw around words like “just right”, reading continuum, and many other educational terms that our schools embrace, yet might be confusing, even when translated?  I want to bridge the gap between the jargon we use and the meaning that parents need.

When the meeting was about to begin, more parents arrived, bringing their children and the children they were watching while others worked. They proudly introduced me to their family, their nephews, and their other children.  The room was overfilled with parents and children, positive thoughts, and happy munching on snacks provided for them.  Our school was welcoming them and providing a conduit through which they could participate knowledgeably and confidently as they unraveled the jargon of education – not just from Spanish to English, but into parent-friendly language. The meeting ended with pictures of our students enjoying the books provided for them, a video in Spanish and English that touched our hearts, and warm hugs and handshakes with promises to meet again in six weeks.

So,  as the ditty says, “all, all, all together now”, our community of parents, teachers, and children embarked on a journey “all together” to provide support from all facets of our educational community in order to help all of our students, all of the time. 

Soon our ESL educators will be meeting at our NJTESOL/NJBE Annual Conference in New Brunswick   I am looking forward to seeing all of you at our SIG meetings each morning as we share successes and anticipate the many meetings and presentations that will best provide support for our instruction.   Come peruse the day’s schedule in our SIG, “Meeting the Challenge of Middle School”, and discuss the new standards in our classes, assessment, and other current topics.  This year, instead of listing our consistently exceptional presentations, I urge you to visit our website, http://www.njtesol-njbe.org/spring-conference/default.htm  and join us on May 29 and 30 for a guaranteed great educational experience. I personally invite you all to my new workshop, “Success with ELLs through Family Reading” to discuss the successful parent meetings that have fostered an appreciation of reading.  I would like to share what has worked and, as a result, has provided a network of active parents invested in the education of their children. 

Come chat and share with us.   See you soon!

Tina Kern, ESL/Bilingual Middle School SIG, tkern@njtesol-njbe.org

Bilingual Elementary 1 - 8

The Magic in English Language Learning

By Gregory Romero

The NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference is getting nearer. The excitement is building as we stage our big event.  This year the conference is scheduled to run May 29 through May 30, 2013.  Once again, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick will be the location.   It is a great opportunity to have a variety of experiences in the field of second language learning. This year’s conference will run with presenters that will speak about the latest issues within our field, fellow teachers that will present on strategies that are proven to work in the classroom, and vendors introducing materials that will help English language learners.

This year’s conference theme is Language, Heritage, and Culture - The Magic in English Language Learning. It’s true: there is magic in English language learning and the learners that are part of the process. I can’t imagine another field that is as inspiring as that of teaching English to non-English speakers. There is great joy in seeing the progress our ELL students make as the year progresses going from using just a few words in the target language to a plethora of words and phrases that makes you wonder if the child before you is the same child you met in September.

This year’s NJTESOL/NJBE conference will include a variety of topics and subjects that are sure to attract many participants. These topics are clearly related to the classroom and the instructional practices that teachers need [in order] to continue the magic that is second language instruction. One of the issues that will be discussed at the conference will be the identification of learning problems in second language learners and determining the roots of those problems so that the students can receive appropriate interventions. As a teacher, I know that many of our students will face hurdles to learning a second language that sometimes are mislabeled. Barbara Tedesco and BJ Franks will present Making Decisions about ELLs and Special Education and review the characteristics of second language acquisition versus learning disabilities.

I would also recommend that our participants attend the workshop by the Department of Education, the Bureau of Bilingual/ESL Education, State Initiatives in Bilingual/ESL Education, to hear new initiatives and changes that impact our departments, our teachers, and our students. As the field of education is changing day by day, it is important to keep abreast of those changes. At the same time, the law-the Bilingual Code- also may change. As educators, we must be proactive and informed; informed educators can help their students and their departments by implementing change that enhances student learning.

Participants should also make a point to attend some of the conference SIGs and share concerns and ideas with colleagues who have the same challenges. The Bilingual Elementary Special Interest Group (SIG) will be holding a forty-five minute discussion group on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Those attending will discuss concerns, questions, comments, and ideas regarding elementary bilingual students and/or classes. All are invited to share good news or experiences during these sessions.

Regardless of which workshops you attend, each and every one of them will enhance your knowledge of second language learning and instruction. Besides the topics we have mentioned here, there are countless others that will make this a memorable conference and experience. Memories will be made as colleagues share experiences and hard-earned knowledge knowing that they are leaving the convention richer for having attended. Enjoy your time at this year’s convention; we look forward to seeing you there.

Gregory Romero, Bilingual Elementary Special Interest Group     

Bilingual Secondary

ELLs — Meeting Their Needs

By Yasmin Hernández-Manno

Each student comes to school, not only with unique academic needs, but also with unique background experiences, personality, language, culture, interests, and attitudes toward learning. All of these factors affect how students learn in the classroom, and effective teachers recognize this and they adjust, or differentiate, their instruction to meet students' needs. Working with English language learners and meeting their needs means using strategies for differentiating their learning and assisting them in being successful.

I have worked with teachers by assisting them to implement the research by Carol Ann Tomlinson to effectively provide differentiated instruction in the secondary classrooms with English language learners.  It has been very successful in tailoring to the vast academic needs and levels with which these students enter our schools.  Once teachers are provided with the proper training and ongoing coaching they need to implement this approach to teaching, they have reported their students show great improvement in key content areas and comprehension.

Tomlinson and Imbeau (2010) describe differentiation as creating a balance between academic content and students' individual needs. They suggest that this balance is achieved by modifying four specific elements related to curriculum: Content — the information and skills that students need to learn; Process — how students make sense of the content being taught; Product — how students demonstrate what they have learned; Affect — the feelings and attitudes that affect students' learning

The goal of differentiated instruction is to create learning opportunities that make allowances for differences in how individual students learn in order to ensure equal access to important academic content. Content may be modified for students who need additional practice with essential elements before moving on; however, the expectation is that modifications in other areas will ultimately allow all students to master the same key content.

“Differentiated instruction is not the same as individualized instruction. Every student is not learning something different; they are all learning the same thing, but in different ways. And every student does not need to be taught individually; differentiating instruction is a matter of presenting the same task in different ways and at different levels, so that all students can approach it in their own ways." (Trujo, 2004).


Tomlinson, C. A. (2005). Differentiating instruction: Why bother? Middle Ground, 9, 12-14.
Tomlinson, C. A., & Imbeau, M. B. (2010). Leading and managing a differentiated classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Trujo, S. (2004, September/October). Differentiated instruction: We can no longer just aim down the middle. ELL Outlook. Retrieved from http://coursecrafters.com/ELL-Outlook/index.html

Yasmin E. Hernández-Manno,  Bilingual Secondary Interest Group (SIG)

Early Childhood

Family Literacy in the Early Grades

By Monica Schnee

Literacy and parent outreach go hand-in-hand. In the elementary grades, one of our main goals as teachers of language, not just English as a second language, is to foster parents’ commitment to reading and developing language and higher-order thinking. With that goal in mind, I created the ESL Parent Literacy Club. Through the years, it has changed to fit the needs of my population.

It began as an attempt to teach parents of my English learners the reading comprehension strategies that we taught their children in our classroom. I spent hours reading Mosaic of Thought (Keene, Zimmerman, and Graves) and Strategies that Work (Harvey, Goudvis, and Graves)  to come up with something that would be parent-friendly with modified language and the Readers Workshop format.

Parents would come to my room to learn with their child once a month. I would model the strategy in a “ mini-lesson” and then parents would go off on their own for independent practice, true to Reading Workshop. The key was that they would use the strategy while speaking their own language. I would also write a Parent Strategy Letter where I would explain how to use the strategy. I always told them that they should try this at home about once a week, otherwise, reading with their child would become insufferable!

As time went on, I added other ideas such as basic concepts of print, the development of decoding, the notion that having their child become a decoding machine was not the same as comprehending and thinking about text. We would meet once a month with their children and once a month without them. All of these meetings took place during instructional time and I always hoped to be able to have them in the evening, too.

My parent literacy efforts grew from the meetings to including articles on my website, reading books created by their children, a reading blog where I model the different strategies, and lately, a Child/Parent Blog for families to expand oral language based on text and questions that I write. The purpose is still to develop language and to appreciate the written word as they are asked to post comments. The response has been wonderful. During parent conferences, parents thanked me for learning new things with their children. When I take a few weeks to post a blog, children ask me when I am posting “my stories” because they miss going on the blog.

Literacy can take many forms but no matter whether it is reading, blogging or discussing books, we need our students’ parents to partner with us so we can all succeed. In these times of change and more rigor as a result of the Common Core Standards, we cannot do our jobs alone, especially in the early grades when children come equipped with so little and have to learn so much.

Monica Schnee, PreK-Kindergarten SIG, River Edge School District

Early Childhood

An Evening of Family Literacy

By Monica Schnee

Collaboration among educators allows all of us to grow and develop new ideas.
One collaboration that I have truly benefited from is with our school Media Specialist/Librarian, Laura Fleming. We have worked on many projects together and she has been an invaluable resource.

A couple of months ago, we decided to organize an evening of family literacy. We invited author Jason Edwards who is an amazing and engaging storyteller. His works include Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective , and its sequels, Will Allen and the Ring of Terror, and Will Allen and the Hideous Shroud.  

The original idea was to have the evening for the ESL community in the early grades but our administrators wanted us to include all families in Kindergarten and first grade. At first, I was hesitant about having so many people but then I realized that this would be a chance to build community and collaboration among parents.

We invited parents, children and siblings and had around 100 participants. The evening was a success. Jason Edwards engaged all the children as they became the storytellers. There was lots of laughter and parent participation.  Language and literacy were at the core of the evening.

Author Jason Edwards and River Edge K-1 families is pictured below.

Author Jason Edwards and River Edge K-1 families.

Author Jason Edwards and River Edge K-1 families.

Monica Schnee, PreK-Kindergarten SIG, River Edge School District

ESL K - 5

Check out Our Web Page and Come to Our Conference
By Noreen M. Drucker

Once again NJTESOL/NJBE’s Annual Spring Conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick on Wednesday May 29th and Thursday the 30th. We look forward to seeing you there!

Prior to attending the conference you might like to browse our web page. Start on the home page ( www.NJTESOL-NJBE.org) and click on Spring Conference on the left side. Once on that page, you will find out about our keynote speakers Nonie Lesaux and Mary Ellen Vogt.  Information about poster sessions, parking and other important facts are already up. There is a registration link on that page and a hotel one as well. As we get closer to the date of the conference, more information including workshop titles and a schedule will be available.

Many presenters will be posting their handouts on our web site as well. This will happen a few weeks before the conference.  Be sure to check back often and review those hand-outs, so that you can choose a workshop that fits your needs. Download your own copy to take to the workshop you choose. We thank you and the environment thanks you even more.

Once you have had a chance to take care of all your conference business, return to the home page and click on “helpful links.”

To find out what can be expected from ELLs on the NJ Ask follow this link http://www.state.nj.us/education/bilingual/resources/WhatCanIExpect.pdf listed under the Government Websites on our page.  Once you get there you can see the relationship of language proficiency to scores on the ASK. Of course, as their language proficiency increases, so do their scores. Elementary, my dear Mr. Watson.

Under the section entitled “Discussions, Forums and more” click on the following link: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning-the-language.  It will bring you to Education Weekly where you will find a wealth of articles dealing with assessments, politics, legislative issues and more. The March issue is all about the English language learner and different aspects of their education.

Then take a look at http://www.everythingESL.net and you will see it is just that. You can find EVERYTHING ESL here. Lesson plans, resources, discussions, teaching tips, thematic units, articles of interest, and links to other sites.  The site is approved by the NEA and maintained by author and former ESL teacher, Judie Haynes. Her article about the Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs is most insightful and a must read for mainstream teachers.

http://www.1-language.com  and  http://www.vocabulary.co.il are good sites for review of basic everyday vocabulary, quick quizzes, and simple on line games. Just remember that they are free and therefore filled with ads.

At http://www.kindersite.org  you can find many activities, but you have to register. Don’t worry…it’s free.  For older students take a look at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov  where they can “take off” in English or Spanish.

Click on any other sites on our page and I am sure you will find something of interest  to both you and to your students.

Elementary school teachers are welcome to join me on Wednesday and Thursday for our Special Interest Group meeting. As always, we will discuss HOT topics in Elementary Education

Looking forward to seeing you at our annual convention.

Noreen M. Drucker, SIG Representative- ESL K-5

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ESL Secondary


By Caia Schlessinger



That is the key word to success for our ELLs. I revisit that word constantly during my planning time and during instruction. Often times, teaching can be a very isolating experience. During student teaching, pre-service teachers are encouraged to observe as many teachers as possible. But I found that when I began teaching, it was very difficult to find the time to collaborate and observe other teachers, or have teachers observe me.

I’m reflecting on collaboration mostly because of the passing of a former NJTESOL/NJBE Executive Board Member, Patricia Levine. Pat, an ESL teacher for the Freehold Regional High School District, retired in June, 2006. As a first year teacher, I was fortunate to be her ‘replacement’, as I truly could never replace her. She was a fierce advocate for her students. She tirelessly collaborated with her colleagues in order to perfect her practice and inform the practice of others. Everyone who knew Pat, as I learned when I met her family, knew that she was dedicated to teaching, to her students, and to the mission of NJTESOL/NJBE.

If you feel that you are lacking collaboration in order to improve your teaching practice, then, in the spirit of Pat Levine, please join us at the NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference. The ESL Secondary Special Interest Group will meet both days of the conference. We will meet on Wednesday, May 29th, 2013, from 10:00 am to 11:00 am, and again on Thursday, May 30th, 2013, from 12:45 pm to 1:45 pm. We will discuss topics such as the Common Core State Standards, the NJDOE Model Curriculum, the Bilingual Code, teaching strategies, and strategies to help general education teachers. I look forward to seeing all of you at the spring conference!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. I look forward to collaborating with you.

Caia Schlessinger is the NJTESOL/NJBE Secondary ESL Representative. She teaches ESL at Colt Neck High School for the Freehold Regional High School District and may be reached at cschlessinger@njtesol-njbe.org .

Higher Education

Sharing Our Expertise

By Gladys Vega Scott


he Higher Education Special Interest Group (SIG) brings together a wide range of ESL professionals from community colleges and four-year colleges. They are educators working in programs housed in departments of English, world languages, applied linguistics, or in independent units, such as intensive language institutes. At some institutions, the large number of ESL students has even warranted the creation of ESL departments with as many faculty members as English departments. Although higher education professionals teach one type of population--mostly adults, their students vary significantly in their literacy backgrounds, language needs, and purpose for taking ESL courses.  They are thus involved in the teaching of a myriad of courses that help second language learners, from beginning to advanced levels, to develop the English language skills needed to succeed in academic, social, and work environments. Being part of such rich, rewarding teaching experiences is the fuel that ignites their interest in actively participating and presenting in the NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference.

This May, these educators from the higher education SIG will gather at the Spring Conference to share with fellow teachers and administrators their ideas, experiences, and insights. Their workshops will focus on issues related to program development, language instruction, and assessment in varied educational contexts. The improvement of the learners’ English language skills through the use of innovative, successful teaching techniques will be, once again, at the core of the program. This year, however, these strategies will be examined more in-depth from the perspective of literature and culture in a web-based society. The use of advertisements on print, TV, and social media to develop effective writing and speaking skills in persuasive discourse while honing cultural awareness will be explored.  Other workshops will be centered on the role of literary works in the development of skills that are essential for success in college and in the workplace, such as presentational and critical thinking skills. In addition, there will be presentations on how to invigorate the teaching and learning of English through interactive activities, error logs, games, and the use of apps.

The 2013 Spring Conference promises to be full of stimulating, dynamic, and practical sessions that will provide everyone with top-notch professional development. It will also provide multiple opportunities to meet new teachers and their research in the poster sessions, discuss new state and federal policies, find new materials at the Exhibitors’ Hall, and of course, networking. Remember to come and join us for our annual Higher Education SIG meeting, where colleagues from colleges and universities from across the state gather every year.

Gladys Vega Scott is the Higher Education SIG Representative. She directs and teaches in the Academic ESL Program at William Paterson University and may be reached at scottg@wpunj.edu.

Parent/Community Action

Spring into Action

By Karen Nemeth

The weather is getting warmer and that gives me permission to say: “It’s time to spring into action…. Parent and Community Action!”  We had a great turnout at the meetings of the Parent and Community Action Special Interest Group (SIG) at the 2012 NJTESOL/NJBE Conference and we raised many questions and challenges.  We also heard a lot of ideas and resources being shared.  I’ve tried to keep those discussions going throughout the year with articles in Voices.  We will bring it all together at our meetings at the 2013 conference this year. 

The goals of this SIG are to consider our work with ELLs from these perspectives:

When you attend the NJTESOL/NJBE Spring 2013 Conference, please bring your parent and community action stories.  What has worked for you? What challenges are being faced by your school or district? What resources do you use? What resources do you wish you could find?  If you contact me in advance, I can add your information to the presentation and/or handouts for the meetings.  If you would like time on the meeting agenda to share with the group, please let me know. I look forward to seeing you in May!

Karen Nemeth
Coordinator, Parent and Community Action SIG


Advice from the Trenches

By JoAnne M. Negrín

March 19 marks one year in my role as a supervisor in a large, urban district. The challenges have been many and varied, but that is what I love the most about this role. I don’t think there’s another job like it. I supervise ESL, a full K-12 bilingual education program, World Languages, and Performing Arts – about 105 teachers in all - in a district of 11,000 students and 18 K-12 schools. I also support the remaining 800 teachers when they need help with their ELLs. We are growing and changing rapidly in a time of shrinking resources. It all adds up to a freshman administrator training program like no other! That being said, I wouldn’t want anything less. I have learned a great deal this year, and I thought that this was a good time to share some advice for new and aspiring ESL/bilingual administrators.

  1. Learn who your go-to teachers are and build trusting relationships with them. Despite the fact that I’m a departmental one-woman show, I can’t do anything alone. I rely on my bosses and building principals and, importantly, their administrative staff. But without teacher buy-in, even the most necessary initiatives will go nowhere. Find your most capable and most hungry-for-change staff members and work closely with them. Include them in the planning of as many initiatives as you can. Not only do you gain the advantage of their extensive knowledge of their craft, their students, and the organization, but if they have had a part in the building of the initiatives, other teachers will sense their enthusiasm and come along.
  2. Learn to think six months ahead even as you’re figuring out how to do what you need to do today. March has rolled in like a lion and you’re up to your eyeballs in budget, observations, and testing. You should also be in the thick of planning for summer. I have found that the calendar flies by, and if you blink you may miss something. It is also necessary to keep close tabs on deadlines for the Board agenda, because that can also slip by you! Hopefully, you will have followed rule 1, and the people in charge of the agenda will be nice to you and slip your items in after the deadline if it doesn’t happen too often. Not that I’ve ever, ever had to do that.
  3. Network, network, network! Even if you are not a one-person show, you will need validation every so often that you are not crazy. Reach out to the other ESL and/or bilingual supervisors in your area and arrange for periodic meetings. This is hard to do because all of you are running around trying to meet your deadlines while simultaneously thinking six months ahead. The effort is worth it. It will also benefit your students who move from one district to another because it gives you the opportunity to understand each other’s programs. Your NJTESOL/NJBE membership is a lifesaver as well. Go to the meetings not only in your county chapter, but other nearby chapters as well. The more people you know, the more programs you are familiar with, the stronger your leadership will be.

JoAnne Negrín is  the NJTESOL/NJBE SIG Representative for Supervisors. She is the Supervisor of ESL, Bilingual Education, World Languages, & Performing Arts at Vineland Public Schools.